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   Wednesday, April 30, 2003  
If this blog had a hat, it'd be tossing it to the winds. Hot on the heels of the release of his third and best album yet, M. Ward comes to town. Just as reallyrather felt compelled to forego Wheat when they opened for John Mayer at the Shepherds Bush Empire, similar resignation was descending on discovering Matt Ward would be doing precisely the same for new labelmates Yo La Tengo. Nothing really wrong with the latter, of course, but the intimate confines of the Arts Cafe (May 24 courtesy of Rarepleasures) is a massively more sympathetic setting than the Empire for someone like Ward.
"I gravitate toward used furniture, used clothing, old sounds," he told The Independent last week. "Some of my favourite recordings are the old blues ones [where] it's pretty scratchy." Well, just as this blog has all the time in the world for the Be Good Tanyas but next to none for more straightahead traditional bluegrass, 'authentic' blues recordings don't really connect hereabouts yet Ward's music most definitely does. Transfiguration of Vincent succeeds in almost every way reallyrather might have wished and is unreservedly recommended.
Recorded on 8-track 'in [Mike Coykendall's] attic with help from his band, Old Joe Clarks' it's another minor sonic miracle. Slightly tidier than the preceeding End of amnesia - there's slightly less noises-off and patchwork nostalgia - Ward still cloaks the tunes on ToV in a wondrously spacious, almost tactile ambience. And what tunes! Tho' they might promise a succession of sombre, wristing-slitting dirges, don't let titles like Undertaker, Dead man, Sad sad song, etc mislead. ToV ranges from sweet, jaw-slackening melodiousness (Voice at the end of the line, Undertaker, Involuntary) to fuzzy uptempo chuggers (Fool says, Vincent O'Brien, Out of my head) via a couple of Kottke/Fahey-style instrumental rags and more. There's the sub-rockabilly clatter of Helicopter with it's Paul Simon-meets-Conor Oberst songline, the gothic stomp of Sad, sad song and this blog's favourite of the hour, the admirably concise Get to the table on time (90 seconds!). The voice is mostly up close and personal and multi-tracked to quite brilliant effect as and when.
Beyond being a friend of Ward's, reallyrather has no idea who Vincent O'Brien was. Before hearing this latest album reallyrather already felt a degree of gratitude to him for inspiring Ward's scratchy, affecting ode O'Brien on End of Amnesia. This blog is doubly, triply indebted now. Buy the album, see the show...

"I hate going there...It's just a pain in the neck, you know?" - Will Oldham on the hell of having to tour Europe...

Luckily, New York's Hem don't seem to mind that much. reallyrather joined the throng at The Borderline Tuesday for their one-off sold-out show. Sans fiddle or percussion, the strings-heavy six-piece seduced the assembly with their hallmark creamy, coffee-table twang. They may be quite different personalties away from the stage but on it the four guys appear to share a remarkably similar laidback modesty in their playing. There's very little scope for grandstanding here but they don't seem to mind. Singer Sally Ellison and bass player/harmony vocalist Catherine Popper draw the ear (and eye) more directly both during and between numbers but the whole comes together with a seamless elegance. A bit like the Be Good Tanyas, Hem don't really do 'lively', much preferring the lush and languid approach. Almost apologetically they included a galloping version of The cuckoo in the encore which tho' undeniably popular, sounded least like tHem. In this band's case, nice 'n' easy does it every time...

'So that's it. I don't even have a song to complain about. Everything on this album is exquisitely sequenced, produced, and performed. This album is pure pop, both in its melodic execution and in its broad, undeniable appeal. The album sees release on June 3rd here in the States, so mark the date. That's the day you start running after the bandwagon.' All aboard!
   posted by SMc at 4:49 AM |